Put together a concert pianist, a rock musician, a busy mother and wife, and a rising star at one of the biggest gaming manufacturers in the world. What do they have in common?
A name: Cathryn Lai.
The 38-year-old vice president of product management for Scientific Games is a woman of many interests—and enough talent and energy to excel at all of them.
Her current role encompasses not only product development but market research, financial analysis and sales. “My team talks to operators to make sure we develop viable products that operators and players want,” she says. “We work directly with the advance innovation teams, product
development teams and engineering to drive new ideas, to launch and then position them correctly for the market so they’re successful.”
With seismic shifts in the industry—a changing player profile, emerging technologies and more competition than ever—her job also includes a fair amount of forecasting. “We’re not looking at two to three years out. We’re looking industry-wide at long-term trends.
“Nobody has a crystal ball, but Scientific Games has always been an innovative company,” she says. “It’s a risk to be the first to market with new concepts and ideas, but someone has to take the gamble.”
A classical pianist by training, Lai earned a degree in audio engineering and got her MBA while teaching music at DePaul University. She jumped from education to the business world as a product manager for microphone manufacturer Shure Inc. “It was a perfect fit,” she says. “I was applying my business skills and making product decisions, but with products I really love.”
It was a natural transition to WMS Gaming, where she started in 2008. “I never looked back. Slot machines involve hardware, art, sounds and math. There are so many different, creative, smart elements, and I continually got to apply my business skills.”
She became senior director of product management for Scientific Games after it acquired WMS, and was tapped for the VP role in October.
Lai attributes her rise in part to “a strong network of women who have been great influences for me while I’ve been building my career. People talk about how there are not a lot of women in gaming, but the ones who are there are fantastic. I’ve been lucky to have so many strong advocates to help me build my brand.”
Lai continues to play classical piano, performs with no less than three rock bands, and still finds the time to make fancy lunches for her 5-year-old daughter, “cutting all her food into different shapes and faces.
“That’s 20 minutes when I could be sleeping,” Lai says, “but it’s the nature of how I do things. If I’m committed to it, I’m going to do the best.”